Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

AMNESTY WEEK 2K10: Aloe Blacc – Femme Fatale

The lesser-noticed follow-up to the theme tune from that HBO show about the guys with the thing and the whatsit…


Chuck Eddy: I can see how HBO might love this guy (two songs I’ve heard would fit right in during dreary TV scenes), but I’m still not getting why people who think they love old-school soul music do. This is an almost passably strung-out take on a song by a band who sure inspire loads of mediocre cover versions, and damned if I’m hearing much R&B in it. Also, San Antonio post-grrrl Latin pop-rock trio Girl In A Coma already did a better rendition in 2010. Theirs is a [7]; this is a:

Martin Skidmore: A very bizarre choice for a soul singer to cover, though I guess at least it’s not hard to up the emotional content of the singing over Nico’s flattened, miserable original vocal. The music is very retro, complete with Hammond organ, which suits me fine, but he seems to be struggling for a way to sing it, to fit the words to the tune. For me, this is just a mildly diverting curiosity.

Mallory O’Donnell: My understanding of the original here is that it at least gave the titular woman a voice, no matter how the lyrics she was given might have echoed the misogyny of the songwriter. Removing the second vocal from the song seems a bit reductive, perhaps an appropriate move considering the blues-soul setting it’s been given. Still, I expected a bit more here, maybe something that sounded more like an engaged re-interpretation rather than a Starbucks-ready cover version. Not without charm, but hardly mind-blowing.

Anthony Easton: This has been a year of amazing soul, so in context, this tight little piece of smooth nonsense becomes nonce, mostly for lack of any real effort.

Michaelangelo Matos: I was wary of this one: it’s such an obvious move, albeit one I’m somewhat of a sucker for. But musically it makes perfect sense: the song comes from the first album, where it shares space with a straight-up “Hitch-Hike” lift, so in a sense this is payback. The skittering drums and showtime feel are weirdly apropos as well: a wink, but not obnoxious. Blacc’s singing doesn’t strain for effect, thankfully, but it’s still not enough to put this all the way over.

Zach Lyon: I am going to be hyperbolic here, but there are a number of things I’m not going to talk about: I’m not going to talk about the appropriation of a 60s hipster drone into modern neo-soul, or Aloe turning Nico’s bored, misogynistic irony into cathartic, slightly-less-misogynistic fist-clenching; the way the best covers are always the ones that uncover true, hidden emotion (except when they’re not); the first chorus, where Aloe’s dry exhaustion breaks into that outpouring of soul (yeah, I know); the unbearable and necessary mute break following the first chorus that I can’t help but anticipate every time; those naked and shivering keys; the fact that there can be no doubt that this soul is coming from a man that knows the subject well enough to regret the fact that he can sing it: See the way she walk! Hear the way she talk!; the fact that this was recorded with a real orchestra, which apparently matters, but also, the goddamned violins and guitar in the chorus; the fact that, on Good Things, an album filled with potentially fantastic singles, the cover was chosen as the followup. I am going to talk about the deal Nico struck with the devil when she covered Jackson Browne’s “These Days” (I know, I’m a child of The Royal Tenenbaums – this is the mythology of my musical upbringing) and the little, caged rockist I keep buried in my soul that sometimes yelps loudly enough to make me think things like this is payback, you’re not allowed to record the definitive version of someone else’s song – especially if you don’t even like your recording! – without losing one of your own. And what poetic justice that Nico hated “These Days” because of the strings! I probably sound silly, but this is my favorite song of the year. And in twenty years, when we’re facing another redepression and Willow Smith records the definitive version of “I Need a Dollar”, you’ll know the cycle continues on.

Kat Stevens: The excellent spy-noir video really helps bring this tune to life. Aloe isn’t just chatting shit about some random lass from afar that he’s never even spoken to – he’s chasing her, or perhaps even trying to hide from her. He can’t interact with her without giving the game away, but can’t afford to take his eyes off her either. Without this tension I think the track would float pleasantly under my radar without me ever having a need for it, like all the fragrant but ultimately pointless bath salts given to me by well-meaning relatives at Christmas.

Jonathan Bogart: It was never my favorite Velvet Underground (with Nico) song, and Blacc gets exactly the same thing wrong with it that the VU did, letting the “she’s a femme fatale” refrain sound colorless and unmeaning. The old soul dudes he’s imitating would have had their backup singers hit it harder, and the song would’ve been better for it. But that said, it’s still a Staxy “Femme Fatale” — the sort of cover that all these years later can still surprise and delight.

One Response to “AMNESTY WEEK 2K10: Aloe Blacc – Femme Fatale”

  1. This is about the score I was expecting. There’s something I just love about Blacc — he’s sort of scrappy, distinctly un-confident, or maybe the confidence is just noticeably less than 100%, to a point where dressing up like Al Green is strictly dressing up. There’s something endearing about it, something that makes him very human in his own right, but it also leads one to wonder what kinds of things he could really do if he started to realize the potential. Other good tracks from the record include “You Make Me Smile,” “Good Things,” and “Hey Brother.” Also, “I’m Beautiful” and his version of “A Change is Gonna Come” (called “Long Time Coming”) from the first album.

    Regardless, it was a near tossup between picking this and my other solid [10] of the year, Jai Paul’s “BTSTU,” (http://hypem.com/#/search/btstu/1/) which is a tad less personal to me than “Femme Fatale,” but I’d love to know how it’d score here.